Fri 24 Apr 2015 2:26AM


SD Sophie Davies Public Seen by 5

Sex is the distinction between males and females based on the biological differences in sexual characteristics.

Sex is a fundamental demographic characteristic used in social and population analysis. It is used to analyse most social statistics such as employment, health, and education. Collecting data on sex is a legal requirement under the Statistics Act 1975.

While the inclusion of sex in the census is not in question, there is potentially a need for changes to the categories used. Currently there are two categories: male and, female. However, some people are born biologically intersex and some people make transitions. Although this group is small, currently they cannot represent their biological sex in this question.

Concerns have been raised about how including an intersex category would affect the quality and comparability of the sex data from the census. Defining what is meant by biologically intersex may be difficult on a self-completed form with finite space. Another potential issue is that including an intersex category may elicit false responses from some respondents.

Our current recommendations relating to sex

  • Collecting data on sex is required by law under the Statistics Act 1975, and will be collected in the 2018 Census.

  • We will do more testing and research to explore the possibility of collecting information on those who are biologically intersex.

See our preliminary view of 2018 Census content (pages 14-15) for a more detailed discussion on sex information.

See 2013 Census information by variable for information on the sex variable.


Lisa (Facilitator) Tue 28 Apr 2015 11:34PM

Kia ora, talofa, hello, and welcome to the Census 2018 discussion on Sex. Statistics New Zealand wants to know what people think, so here’s your chance to have your say. I am really looking forward to hearing from you on this topic.

I am also facilitating the discussions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.


Megan Bowra-Dean Fri 1 May 2015 3:39AM

Beyond the absolutely necessary inclusion of intersex people, there needs to be more clarification as to what Statistics New Zealand defines as sex and whether for trans people, it's affected by the dominant sex hormone in their bodies.

Sex is collected for analysis of employment, health and education. More often it is perceived gender that affects employment statistics rather than biology. Employers don't check down our pants or do a blood test for sex hormones before considering whether to employ us or not. Health is another mixed bag. Sex hormones affect typically gendered health issues, not just genitals.


Megan Bowra-Dean Fri 1 May 2015 3:49AM

I would also note that many of the arguments for not including sexual orientation in the census due to complexity and relevance outside of a health context also apply to the case for including sex on the census. If it wasn't for the legal requirement, I would question why there is a double standard.


Lisa (Facilitator) Fri 1 May 2015 4:15AM

Welcome @meganbowradean1 . You raised some great points! See here for a Statistics New Zealand definition and discussion of Sex, which says trans people should choose the sex they are living as. Do trans people have trouble answering this question?


C. H. Rose Sat 2 May 2015 12:30AM

Yes. I am entirely biologically female - I am not and currently do not have plans to change this. As a non-binary person, I would choose simply not to answer (and risk nullifying my census) before I checked female, regardless of if it is technically, medically correct.

However if there was an option for ticking assigned female at birth but otherwise identifying (in a more succinct way), I would happily tick that.


C. H. Rose Sat 2 May 2015 12:41AM

Also the issue of "false responses" with regards to including intersex people is in my opinion irrelevant. Including it would achieve two incredibly important goals - both by allowing real data to emerge on a area in which we as a society need to vastly improve and by, you know … doing the right thing as a country by acknowledging that intersex people are real rather than further institutionally discriminating against them?

That's my thought anyway - obviously as I am not intersex my opinion is far less relevant than that of someone who lives this life experience.


Kay Sat 2 May 2015 12:59AM

Professor Milton Diamond estimates that based on biological data, 1 in 100 people has an intersex condition ( a term covering a range of different chromosomal and biological features). Only 1 in 2,000 people may appear sufficiently different to come to medical attention early in life. A Census question on sex as in male or female and/or intersex would be useful and is needed for raising awareness and future planning. The resulting data should be flagged as being an underestimate because some people don't know they are intersex. Finding out may relate to adult medical examinations to identify causes of reproductive infertility, and not all intersex people seek to have children. Examples include Turner syndrome (XO a female variant) and some with androgen insensitivity condition (XY but presenting female). Some people may identify as both male (or female) AND with an intersex condition. While this variation may be more difficult for Statistics to accommodate, that isn't a reason to ignore the issue.


Rowan Burnett-Jones Sat 2 May 2015 2:42AM

I feel like I sometimes have trouble ticking female for sex as well - being genderfluid. But as well as that NZ has an option for a third or other option on our passports just marked as X don't we, whats to stop us using that for the census - it's already a governmentally recognised definer.
Also like Megan said the sex question is generally more treated as a gender question not a health question, so shouldn't its options reflect that.


Lisa (Facilitator) Sat 2 May 2015 8:18AM

Thanks @rowanburnettjones, @kayscarlet and @chrose for joining the discussion and providing your views and knowledge. It is fantastic to have both facts and experiences. It seems X is used by the Department of Internal Affairs to incorporate both sex AND gender identity, so may not be so useful in the census context where it is vital to keep sex - a legal requirement - separate from gender identity.


Kay Sun 3 May 2015 4:58AM

Lisa said " it is vital to keep sex - a legal requirement - separate from gender identity" .... but this a circular argument. Sex (by which many people think of gender) is a legal requirement because that is how the law is currently worded. Laws can be changed, as with the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013 which defines marriage as "the union of 2 people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity". That Act refers to sex and to gender identity to ensure that the emphasis on the couple not any distinctive features. If a law changes is needed (and I don't believe it is) then it could be facilitated through the annual Statutes Amendment Bill for minor legal changes.

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